I was recently in a bar (naturally) talking cocktails with a bartender friend, and thinking back on the best drinks I'd had in 2011. Had there been some thread that tied them all together? What were the big trends in drinks over the past year?
This year, we saw quite a few barrel-aged cocktails à la Jeffrey Morgenthaler—the method has spread to Chicago and San Francisco, Boston and New York, and we even got instructions on how to make our own in the handy mini-barrel that comes as part of Woodinville's Age Your Own Whiskey kit. (While we're talking age-your-own whiskey, unaged whiskey, or white dog, seems to be appearing on lots of cocktail menus as well.)
2011's cocktails emphasized amari and bitters, and that will likely continue. In Portland, it seems every bar has a Becherovka machine—that's something we haven't seen much in NYC yet. There will be more Ramazzotti, more Cynar, more Zucca, and more Cardamaro. And yes, there will be more house-made bitters and house-infused liqueurs, even if you're tired of hearing about them.
Speaking of housemade syrups, we'll see more customized shrubs and vinegars in drinks next year, too. These also will be essential components in the burgeoning trend of offering delicious alcohol-free drinks for those who don't drink spirits.
This year, we've also seen cocktails take a turn for the savory—smoky mezcal drinks that remind us of drinking bacon, and actual bacon drinks that aren't just a stunt. These days, you're as likely to see a liqueur made from pinecones as from peaches. Umami-rich sherry has claimed a moment in the spotlight, too—its savory flavors and relatively low alcohol (compared with spirits) make it just right for pairing with food.
In addition to sherry, other wines (fortified and not) as well as beer have had a moment in the cocktail spotlight—we tasted more than our share of both wine- and beer-based cocktails, and wouldn't be surprised to see more vermouth on tap in the coming year (as well as pre-blended cocktails on tap and in bottles.)
Each year we welcome the news of more historical cocktail ingredients re-emerging and gaining wider distribution. I'm glad to find Old Tom gin, Batavia Arrack, and Crème de Violette on liquor store shelves and cocktail bar menus, and excited to see what else reappears on our shores in the coming year. And alongside these great old ingredients, I also am excited to see what the next year brings in microdistilling. Will there be a big new crop of spirits? Or will economic pressure thin the herds? Will more bars focus on domestically sourced spirits in the coming year?
I also wonder if we'll see a push toward simplicity from folks who are tired of ten-ingredient cocktails. Have we shown how fancy we can get, and is it time to focus on well-made drinks that aren't so complicated?
What do you think we'll be drinking in 2012?
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